Dubai: The message is loud and clear.
Speaking at a press conference held at the Yas Beach ahead of Saturday’s UFC 254 showdown, Khabib Nurmagomedov warned interim lightweight title-holder Justin Gaethje to “worry about wresting for twenty-five minutes.’’
Assessing Gaethje’s skills in the wake of the American’s demolition of Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in May, the Russian said: “He has dynamite in his hands, a very good kick. They all are good when they stand up but when I drag them to the ground, it changes things a little bit.
“I have prepared myself to take him down a 100 times. He has to worry about wrestling twenty-five minutes.”
Arguably one of the biggest UFC fight’s of 2020 takes place behind closed doors at Fight Island’s Flash Forum in Yas Island. The winner will walk out of the Octagon as the undisputed 155-pound champion.
Even UFC President Dana White, who acknowledged that 2020 has been the most difficult of his professional career due to the Coronavirus pandemic but the most rewarding, said this was possible the best fight he has ever put together.
“Anything is possible when these two guys enter the Octagon and that’s what makes this fight so exciting,” he said.
“This is a massive fight, UFC 254’s total impressions is 23 billion.”
And the numbers are set to spiral even higher as fight-night approaches.
Ok, so now that Khabib has bared his soul and said that it will be his grappling against Gaethje’s striking and kicks once the Octagon door shuts, it looks like the fight has the potential to be an absolute epic and one for the ages.
Gaethje looked cool and composed thoughout the press conference and was respectful of his opponent, who has not been beaten in 28 fights and only lost one round since his debut in 2008. “I’m a performer and I thrive under the lights, this is ingrained in us,” he said.
“My rule is I quit or he quits. I’m here to get better and I just can’t wait to surprise myself again. I will give everything I have to be proud of myself again.
“He hasn’t fought or grappled with someone like me. If he wants to grapple, lets grapple in the middle, I’m not going to let him take me against the cage,” he said.
When asked if he felt that like an outsider in Abu Dhabi considering the attention and adulation Khabib gets in the Middle East, Gaethje said: “If it means representing the US, it’s special.
“I’m not even supposed to be here…this was Tony Ferguson’s fight. But I beat him and took his place, I took his soul.
“This fight is huge for me, huge for my country, my family and the small town (Safford, Arizona) that I come from.”
Khabib, soft-spoken and kind (he every gave Gaethje a couple of friendly taps on the shoulder during the customary stare-down), echoed his rivals sentiments in fighting for his country and family.
“There’s a big difference between Dagestan and US wrestling,” he said. “I know he know how to wrestle but I’m gonna go all night. This is the difference between Dagestan and the US.
“But the most important thing for me is family. I think I was a good kid to my father,” he said of Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who died aged 57 in July due to coronavirus-related complications.
“Right now, this is a special time for me with all this pandemic stuff. I don’t like this world, you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, right now I’m focused on Justin.”